An Interview with Grace Bonney, Founder of Design*Sponge

When you read the design blog, Design*Sponge, it’s like having a conversation with that one friend who manages to strike the delicate balance between uber cool and down-to-earth humble. She’s chic, has the best advice, and makes you laugh. The site is full of personality but has a consistent look and feel. It’s not flashy or over-the-top, but is filled with great content and inspiration. Having built a brand from the ground up, we can tell you that striking the perfect balance is no easy task.

Needless to say, when we recently chatted with Founder Grace Bonney, we had lots of questions. We asked her everything, from how she got her start, to tips for work-life balance, and why she believes it’s important to shop ethical. Oh, and of course we had to ask her about her favorite piece from Lesouque.

How did you decide on the name "Design*Sponge?"

I wish I had thought more about that name when I was 23. But I never had ANY idea this would become my full time job. I thought about how I tend to work/research (which is obsessively researching and soaking up any info that comes my way) so I went with that. Now I have to say "sponge" 20 times a day. It's hard not to laugh when I'm on a banking call and they stutter over the word "sponge". ;)

A lot of women can probably relate to working full-time "day job" while going home to work on their true passions. (we definitely can!) Tell us more about what it was like to take Design*Sponge from a side project to a full-time career?

It all happened pretty organically. The short version of that story is that I always wanted to use the site as a digital portfolio to use to apply for jobs at a print magazine, which I thought was my stable end-goal career. Then when I got those jobs and saw magazines closing, I realized they weren't the safe haven I thought they were. When all of my favorite magazines closed in 2009 (House & Garden, Domino, Blueprint, Craft), I realized I needed to take the site seriously and treat it like a real business.

Why do you believe it's important to “shop small” and support local artists?

I think it's important to support ethically made goods whenever possible, and for me, that means shopping locally and from people I know are producing things with as much thought and care as possible. But that usually comes with a higher price tag so I have to mix this in with thrifted pieces and family hand-me-downs.

Where is your favorite place to get away from it all?

Home. It's quiet, we can barely see our neighbors' houses and the only noise is the sound of birds and deer walking through the lawn.

You talk about design and do home tours so much, we're curious - what is your personal style for your home?

It's always evolving, but right now I'd say it's pretty classic. Our house is mostly white, black and grey with the occasional stripe and a lot of antique rugs (my obsession). I find the older and busier I get, the less I want or need my house to inspire me with pattern and color. Instead I want it to just be a place where I feel calm, relaxed and restored.

Speaking of style, what's your favorite piece from Lesouque?

I love anything blue and marbled, so the Ebru Marble Ceramic Cheeseboard.

Why did you decide to write a second book? And tell us more about how you got it done in 3 months! What was your creative process?

I wanted to create the business book I wasn't seeing in the market- one that celebrated a diverse group of women, one that was relatable and one that inspired without rules and judgement. We made a tight schedule of 110 shoots in 2 months and just cranked it out. Our team knows how to move quickly and our photographer, Sasha Israel, was a real trooper about getting 4-5 shoots done a day.

Speaking of getting things done, how do you manage the blog, writing books, as well as the D*S Biz Ladies Series and After the Jump?

Each one serves a different goal and problem I'm trying to solve, or a change I'd like to see in the community. They each have moments where they get center stage and then inevitably one has to take the back burner (like the podcast, right now) for me to focus on something else. I think it's impossible for any project to be everything and anything I want in my life, so I like to keep pushing to learn new skills and reach new people in different ways.

Do you have a favorite quote or phrase that motivates you?

I don't know who the original source of this quotation is, but I heard Michelle Williams say in an interview that she lives by the "Whatever works, until it doesn't" motto. I find that works well for me. If you expect one way to work forever, it doesn't. Change and being flexible are good.

In a recent interview you talked about putting a lot of pressure on Design*Sponge to fill every void in your life. What techniques do you use to help peel yourself away from your desk and make time for those relationships?

I have a strict daily to-do list and schedule and don't go outside of it. When I'm done with that list, I stop. I used to just work until I basically crashed over on my sofa and passed out. Getting dogs helps, too. They will remind you that there's life (and walks!) outside of a laptop.

At Lesouque, a portion of proceeds from every sale goes to The Malala Fund to help further the education of girls around the world. What are you passionate about when it comes to giving back?

That's great! I'm passionate about creating opportunities for women of color in design/business and I'm also passionate about animal rescue. I'm on the Board at The Sato Project (where our dogs came from) and I'm working on a new project to bring awareness and support to women of color running design-based businesses.

What's something most people wouldn't guess about you?

I love horror movies. My wife likes to joke that Design*Sponge is fueled by the sound of zombies and it's true. I watch horror movies on Netflix while I work all day.

Now that your book is done, what's your next adventure? Book tour?

I'm working on a print magazine for DS and getting the podcast back up and running. We're also welcoming 10 new writers with new columns so I'm overseeing that, too. All in a normal day's work here...